FBI tapes played for Ill. impeachment trial

One of Gov. Rod Blagojevichs quotes is displayed as evidence during the second day of his impeachment trial in the Illinois senate in Springfield, Ill. on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. Senators listened to secretly recorded conversations in which Blagojevich appears to talk about pressuring people for campaign donations. (AP Photo/The Chicago Tribune, Michael Tercha) **CHICAGO LOCALS OUT, ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, TV OUT**

AP

One of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s quotes is displayed as evidence during the second day of his impeachment trial in the Illinois senate in Springfield, Ill. on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. Senators listened to secretly recorded conversations in which Blagojevich appears to talk about pressuring people for campaign donations. (AP Photo/The Chicago Tribune, Michael Tercha) **CHICAGO LOCALS OUT, ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES, TV OUT**

By Christopher Wills

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich was hundreds of miles away, but his voice captivated the Illinois Senate Tuesday as impeachment prosecutors played FBI wiretaps of conversations in which he seems to demand campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation.

Senators conducting the trial, which Blagojevich is boycotting though it could remove him from office within days, listened intently as the fuzzy, indistinct telephone conversations echoed through the room – the heating system, reporters typing on laptops and the occasional cough accounting for the only other noise.

Neither the governor nor the others on the call – the governor’s brother and chief fundraiser Robert Blagojevich and former chief of staff Lon Monk, officials say – specifically mentions money or any amounts.

The governor was arrested last month on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services. He denies any wrongdoing and neither his brother nor Monk has been charged.

Before the tapes were played Tuesday, an FBI agent vouched for the accuracy of those and other Blagojevich quotes that were included the federal criminal complaint against him.

As Blagojevich’s private words took center stage in Springfield, the governor remained in New York for the second day of a media tour focused on portraying the impeachment as unfair and politically motivated.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Blagojevich did not directly answer when asked whether he will step aside quietly if convicted by the Senate.

Blagojevich doesn’t deny making the comments alleged by federal prosecutors. But he says they were taken out of context and don’t amount to anything illegal.

The allegation at the center of the tapes played for senators is that Blagojevich pressured John Johnston, owner of two Chicago-area harness-racing tracks, to donate money by the end of 2008, when a new ethics law would restrict donations.

Prosecutors say Blagojevich threatened not to sign legislation giving tracks a portion of casino-generated revenue unless he got the donation.Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald has ordered the trial to go forward as if Blagojevich had entered a not guilty plea.

No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial. It would take a two-thirds majority – or 40 of the 59 senators – to remove Blagojevich. The Senate also could bar him from ever again holding office in Illinois.

If the Senate votes to oust Blagojevich, Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn would replace him.

Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela in New York, Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Andrea Zelinski in Springfield contributed to this report